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Teaching the Spiritual Essence of Yoga with Integrity

The heart of yoga is spirituality, best defined as the process of self-awareness, self-discovery, and self-realization. This is what most of our students are seeking, even if they do not consciously realize or express it, and supporting another being on the journey of self-discovery is one of the greatest gifts we can bestow. But how can we teach spirit, depth, and meaning in an authentic and satisfying way?

By Dr. Swami Shankardev Saraswati

Spiritual knowledge is best gained from our own gurus, teachers, and mentors, from ongoing practice, and, often, from bitter experiences such as loss. There are also skills that we can learn, such as how to really listen to others, how to respond effectively, and so on. These are often taught in counseling courses, which can be an extremely useful addition to any yoga teacher's armory.

Remember that even though we cannot expect to make great progress in teaching spirituality until we develop it in ourselves, we can still be good yoga teachers if we teach to the level at which we have been trained. We often give our students a lot more than we realize, especially if we are perfectionists. But we need to study hard and practice diligently to continuously upgrade our skills.

Preparing to Teach with Spirituality
There are a number of simple exercises, meditations, and contemplations we can perform before we begin to teach spirituality. These practices develop a more open and grounded approach to our students' inner lives. Many of these are ego-reduction techniques, because it is usually our own ego that gets in the way of effective and relational teaching. If our ego gets in the way, we may try too hard or become caught up in our own ideas concepts of how things should be.

First spend time contemplating what yoga and spirituality mean to you. Ground yourself and sharpen your awareness.

Only teach what you have studied, learned, and embodied. Recognize your level and do not to teach beyond it.

Do not be afraid to make mistakes; this is how we grow.

Trust yoga practices to do the work. Faith in the techniques powerfully alters the way we teach, facilitating change and growth in students. Teach practices that encourage students to explore themselves at deeper levels. Be as invisible as possible and allow the teachings to shine through. Simply facilitate the process.

Remember that you are a student most of the time and a teacher for only a small percentage of your life. The humility derived from this realization powerfully affects our students.

Be prepared to show or share some of your weaknesses and limitations. Remind your students that you are not perfect. Sharing models possibilities for students very powerfully, and empowers them to change and grow.

Examine your image of what a yoga teacher should be. It is easy to create an unrealistic image for ourselves that will ultimately lead to disappointment.

Avoid the pitfall of trying to become a "guru." Students' adulation can be intoxicating and can cause ego inflation, the exact opposite of spirituality. So be prepared to remain grounded in who you really are. A false guru aims to direct students' lives. A true guru empowers students to find their own way.

Remind yourself that you are only human and that life is challenging for us all. A yoga teacher has problems but attempts to face them with awareness, grace, and poise. Encourage your students to employ yogic methods to better deal with life's difficulties. Educate them in which techniques they can use outside of the yoga class.

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Reader Comments


Today's modern yogis are like fleshy robots running on outdated spiritual software. They possess immense knowledge and full capacity for thought. They competently handle all the complexities of life family, health, finance, career, household day in and day out, year after year. They are intelligent, mature, clever, kind, honest, and fairly representative. And yet, whenever we turn to real spirituality, the most basic and essential facts about awakening, all we get is dubious stares and incoherent skepticism.

Yogis are all in this lululemon spirituality trance. They keep themselves strung out on tranquilizers all the time. They are all in the hands of a loving God, that is one kind of tranquilizer they like to swallow. Means you can just do your asana, read Bhagavad Gita and pass the time. Be nice and say you are sorry when you done wrong and your loving God won't cook your ass. They hope for transcendental bliss, cosmic consciousness, kundalini awakening, supreme love... Reincarnation is another pill that goes down easy. Zazen and pranayama are practised as an advanced spiritual studies. Be nice, be quiet, smile, breathe deeply, be good, don't ask questions, don't use your minds, don't make a disturbance sound familiar?

Is there some purpose of yoga other than to awaken us from delusion?

Spiritually-inclined yogis, from all styles and disciplines are really doing nothing more than maintaining their ignorance. None of them are divesting themselves of their egoic bonds. There is no interest in freedom. It's all been channeled safely into non-threatening, ego-gratifying avenues such as "living practice", "yoga is a gift", heart based spirituality, yama and nyama hobbies, etc.

Yoga asanas, meditation, praying, chanting, vegetarianism, attending darshan and satsang, vipasana, pranayama, zazen, donating money to charitable institutions, reading classical spiritual literature, purifying body etc...

Yogis are doing all this spiritual stuff because they want to maintain certain direction. They want to develop spiritually or grow closer to God, or go to Heaven, or raise their consciousness, or get enlightment, obtain liberation - something along those general lines. In short, they are moving, progressing. They are heading toward one point and away from another.

Yogis believe, in the broadest sense, that something is wrong and that "living practice" of yoga can make it right. What that something is, what's wrong with it, and how it can be fixed all differ from person to person, but general pattern is always the same. However, the truth is that wrongness is entirely imagined. It is the Ego. It is the core of delusion.

The essence of bondage is to consider ourselves to be a process, to have past and future, to have history, to keep progressing somewhere. In terms of awakening it doesn't matter much if one meditates or not, or whether one eats meat or not, or whether one gives to charities or steals from them. For awakening we need to dismantle our false preconceptions and get out from Hindu-Christian-Buddhist-Zen-New Age trap. We need to challenge our opinions; our most cherished and deeply held beliefs because no belief is true. We need to understand our ego structure, our false self.

Delusion is the structural integrity of ego. Observe ego at work, make a study of it, and dissect it, reverse- engineer it. The real spirituality starts from there. The yogis who want to explore life and freedom must harden their heart and sharpen their mind. Yogis must face the facts, they must face their own mortality, their own meaninglessness. There is nothing more devastating to ego than the contemplation of meaninglessness and insignificance. Of nothingness. Of no-self.

One does not undergo the process of awakening out of love for the true but out of hatred for the false: a hatred so intense that it burns everything and spares nothing. And it is that hatred that today's yoga spirituality discourage so reaching state of awakening is nearly impossible.

Veena grover RYT

Karen,Thanks for your suggestion.God bless you. Veena

Veena Grover RYT

Spirituality cannot be taught, only experienced.When a person is ready, god opens the doors.Awareness comes & person surrender to higher power.

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